15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Creator Bill Watterson

He was nothing like Calvin as a child
15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Creator Bill Watterson

From 1985 to 1995, cartoonist Bill Watterson used the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes to explore everything from the imagination of childhood to deeper, philosophical issues — often both at the same time — all within just a handful of panels. Watterson is known for being a reclusive person who has resisted just about every attempt to merchandise his famous creation. Yet, despite his reputation for privacy, some things are known about the man, which we’ve gathered up today...

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He Drew His First Cartoon at Age Eight

Watterson was born on July 5, 1958, in Washington, D.C. When he was six, his family moved to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. At age eight, he drew his first cartoon, inspired by the comic strips Pogo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts.

He was Nothing Like Calvin as a Kid

Calvin was an adventurous, oft-troublemaking kid in the Calvin and Hobbes strips, yet the young Watterson was a “conservative child” according to his parents. They also described him as imaginative, but “not in a fantasy way,” like Calvin.

He Wrote to Charles Schulz — and Schulz Wrote Back

In the fourth grade, Watterson wrote a letter to the Peanuts creator, telling him he wanted to be a cartoonist like him. Schulz replied by thanking Watterson for being a fan. While the reply was likely a form letter — Schulz got thousands of letters — it was still inspiring to Watterson.

‘Spaceman Spiff’ Came Before Calvin

While he attended Kenyon College in Ohio, Watterson drew strips for the college newspaper. Among them was Spaceman Spiff, a parody of Buck Rogers. Later on, Watterson would reuse the name for Calvin’s imaginary spaceman alter ego.

He Painted Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ on His Dorm-Room Ceiling

At Kenyon, he spent months painting a replica of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the ceiling of his dorm room. When he delivered a commencement speech at Kenyon in 1990, Watterson explained, “The painting lent an air of cosmic grandeur to my room, and it seemed to put life into a larger perspective. Those boring, flowery English poets didn’t seem quite so important when right above my head God was transmitting the spark of life to man.”

He Briefly was a Political Cartoonist

After graduating college, he worked for the Cincinnati Post as a political cartoonist. But he couldn’t live up to the expectations of his editor and was terminated.

It Took Five Years to Get United Feature Syndicate to Say ‘Yes’

Watterson submitted various comic-strip proposals to United Feature Syndicate for five years before they greenlit Calvin and Hobbes. The duo originally appeared as side characters in a strip called The Doghouse, and United suggested he focus on the boy with the stuffed tiger instead.

There Actually Is Some Officially-Licensed ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Merchandise

Watterson has famously resisted all attempts to merchandise Calvin and Hobbes. However, he endorsed a few items, including two wall calendars, a T-shirt for a Smithsonian exhibit about comic art and a children’s textbook called Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes, which now sells for thousands of dollars online.

Why He Doesn’t Like ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Merch

Watterson offered a reason behind his decision not to merchandise Calvin and Hobbes in that aforementioned commencement speech, explaining, “As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a 12-billion-dollar-a-year industry, and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I thought about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reasons I draw cartoons.

“Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards. The so-called ‘opportunity’ I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need. What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts. On those terms, I found the offer easy to refuse.”

He Doesn’t Own ‘Calvin and Hobbes’

As Watterson told Mental Floss in a 2013 interview, “I had signed most of my rights away in order to get syndicated, so I had no control over what happened to my own work, and I had no legal position to argue anything. I could not take the strip with me if I quit or even prevent the syndicate from replacing me, so I was truly scared I was going to lose everything I cared about either way.”

He’s Got a Good Sense of Humor About Pissing Calvin Imagery

Although he was never a fan of merchandising his characters, he laughed off a question about the ubiquitous nature of the bootleg pissing Calvin images, saying in a 2005 interview, “I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo.”

The Fight Over Merch Was Part of the Reason He Ended the Strip

When Watterson abruptly ended Calvin and Hobbes after a 10-year run in 1995, he said it was because he felt that he’d done all he could in the medium. But he also pulled the plug because of Universal Syndicate’s efforts to commercialize and merchandise the strip.

He Mostly Paints Now

Since the strip ended, he primarily paints; he doesn’t exhibit his work, however. As he told Mental Floss, “It’s all catch-and-release — just tiny fish that aren’t really worth the trouble to clean and cook. But yes, my second problem is that Calvin and Hobbes created a level of attention and expectation that I don’t know how to process.”

He Has Worked a Little Since ‘Calvin and Hobbes’

Since ending Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, Watterson remained retired for the most part. He has, however, worked on a few projects. He co-authored a biography of cartoonist Richard Thompson and contributed a few guest panels on the strip Pearls Before Swine in 2014. 

He Recently Announced a Comeback

In February, Simon & Schuster said that Watterson is teaming up with caricaturist John Kascht for a new graphic novel called The Mysteries. It’ll be his first project since 2014, though we still wouldn’t hold out much hope for that Calvin and Hobbes breakfast cereal you’ve been clamoring for.

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